December 15, 2018
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How to keep peace at your Thanksgiving table

Monkey Business Images | Dreamstim | TNS
Monkey Business Images | Dreamstim | TNS
The dinner table is a safe zone. Enjoy your food and company. Maybe talk about the election after dinner and dessert.

Uh-oh, it’s here again. The day we are supposed to use to give collective thanks for our blessings, but we fear that our Thanksgiving table will become a bloody battleground, not over who gets the wishbone, but between the left and right wings of the family.

The fear of dysfunction is not imaginary.

“Argumentation could be high, as there are so many points of contention, our porcupine politics have so many painful sticking points that just about everyone has something they feel is significant to complain about,” said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, past president of the American Psychological Association.

With feelings running hot, you might fear Uncle Harry using a drumstick to beat some sense into Cousin Roy, and Aunt Henrietta throwing the candied sweet potatoes at Niece Pearl.

We can agree that Donald Trump is an unpresidential president, a disrupter who eschews decorum. His foes hate him for it, but those are precisely the qualities his fans love.

Since compromise is unlikely, Farley suggests either banning political conversation, or allowing everyone to have a “brief say on the political front.”

I would go with the gag order because no one will agree on what “brief” means.

So we won’t talk about Trump at the table, or Hillary. Or all the other candidates. Or past presidents.

Also banned — in no particular order: abortion, gun control, the opioid crisis, the “stolen” election in Florida, the “stolen” election in Georgia, illegal immigration, taxes, tariffs, climate change, Afghanistan and how bad the Eagles suck.

Wait! We can discuss how bad the Eagles suck. We agree on that.

A bit of tactical advice: Seat natural combatants on the same side of the table, two seats apart. No eye contact.

We have a prohibited subject list, but we don’t want dinner to be a silent movie, so we must have safe topics that are interesting, too. Here’s where Your Favorite Columnist comes to the rescue with conversation starters. Each guest selects a question, sight unseen, and gives an answer. It’s like Truth or Dare, but without the dark edge. The question “why?” should follow most questions.

If you could be a famous person for a week, who would that be?

Who was the most influential person in your life?

What two items would you save if your house were on fire?

Looking at the past, what’s the thing you miss most?

If you could eat only three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

What was the last thing you did for the first time?

What is your favorite family tradition, and are you passing it on?

What would you make vanish forever?

What super power do you wish you had?

If you could live at any earlier time, what period would you choose?

Who is the person, living or dead, you would love to have dinner with?

How would you spend $10,000 won in the lottery?

What age would you like to be again?

If you were trapped in a TV show, which would it be?

What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday night?

We return to Temple professor Farley to close on a positive note: “Most people value family over politics,” he said, “and a Thanksgiving together can reaffirm that value.”

That’s my Thanksgiving wish for you and yours.

Stu Bykofsky is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

 


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